Benoît Mandelbrot passed away on the 14th of October. While I never did fully understand the mathematics behind his discoveries, any person who decides to find the answer to the question “How long is the coast of Britain?” has my vote as a very clever man. He not only could work out the answers, he knew what questions to ask.
He showed how complex structures could be explained using simple rules as the Pythagoras Tree below demonstrates. (link)
I think this quote from the guardian obituary, sums him up quite nicely.
“What is science? We have all this mess around us. Things are totally incomprehensible. And then eventually we find simple laws, simple formulas. In a way, a very simple formula, Newton’s Law, which is just also a few symbols, can by hard work explain the motion of the planets around the sun and many, many other things to the 50th decimal. It’s marvelous: a very simple formula explains all these very complicated things.”
His legacy lives on, on the week of his death, the cover article of the New Scientist was “Fractal life, how chaos theory rules evolution”. There is also a nice appreciation of Mandelbrot on their web site. including his talk at TED earlier this year.